The voices of doom could be heard loud and clear after the stalemate at Eastlands. ‘˜Our title hopes are finished,’ cried the majority, even though we finished the weekend one point closer to the favourites, and only 5 points behind them assuming we win our game in hand.
5 points behind the favourites and yet already written off with 20 games to go?
Sorry, I don’t think so!
Let’s take a step back and look objectively at where Liverpool FC is at the moment.
1. We have the best squad in two decades.
2. We have the best central midfield in the Premiership.
3. We have the best defence over the past 3 seasons, including this one.
4. We have the best away record in the Premiership.
5. We are scoring goals at a rate of the clubs above us for the first time in Rafa’s tenure.
6. We have Fernando Torres.
7. We have Rafa.
So, from my perspective, things are looking rather good right now. We just totally outplayed the best home team in England who had 28 from 30 points prior to the game. We gained a point there (and deserved more) while Man U walked away empty handed.
Let’s also not forget just how close we are to the current league favourites. If the result at Anfield against them had been 1-0 rather than 0-1 (and let’s face it, it could easily have been,) we’d be sitting here on New Year’s Day 2 points behind them with a game in hand. When you look at it that way, after almost 20 games, we are just that one result away from potentially being above them in the league. When was the last time we were this close to the leaders at this stage of the season?
Can the squad be improved? Of course it can! But whose can’t? Would you be happy with O’Shea, Carrick, Fletcher or even Hargreaves if you were (God forbid) a Man U fan? Would you prefer Wes Brown to Finnan, Arbeloa or Aurelio? Thought not!
So yes, of course we still need new players. Torres, Babel, Benayoun, Masch and Agger have all been great successes. On the other hand, it’s not looking like Kuyt or Voronin have what it takes at this level. John Arne Riise also seems to become more one-dimensional and limited as the seasons go by.
But Rafa’s only into his 4th year, and if this is the quality of player we are now concerned about it bodes well’¦.. consider their merits versus Biscan, Cheyrou, Le Tallec, Diao and Diouf!
Another central defender, another world class attacker, and just one flying winger would see our squad in fabulous shape. I actually see Ryan Babel as a striker next to Torres. Imagine the movement, speed and finishing prowess they would give us. So how about it versus Wigan, Rafa? Ok, he won’t do it just yet, but I think it’s the way ‘˜forward’ rather than having the boy out on the wing, which is clearly not his natural position.
Another key to ongoing success is the small issue of keeping Mascherano at the club. The player is brilliant and ‘“ and this is the best praise I can give him ‘“ even out-Didis Didi Hamann in that role. His tackling, reading of the game and tactical nouse is second to none. While he’ll never be a consistent goal-scorer for us, he’ll allow each of the other three middies to take on that challenge while he prowls in front of the back four and breaks up opposition attacks.
Then ther’s the other age old chestnut’¦. rotation. Liverpool fans still debate it, and it seems you’re in one camp or the other. Well, Rafa still does it, but with far less disruption than before in my view. We now ‘“ for the first time under Rafa ‘“ have a ‘˜preferred’ first eleven. i.e. we have had the same strike force (Torres, Kuyt) midfield (Kewell, Masch, Gerrard, Benayoun) and defence (Riise, Hyypia, Carra, Finnan) and of course Pepe, for most ‘˜big’ games lately. It’s been as consistent a line up as I can remember, but even when the rotation does happen. It’s like-for-like, with Arbeloa replacing Finnan, Aurelio replacing Riise, Alonso in for Masch, Voronin for Kuyt etc. We’ve kept 4-4-2 as our base, AND we’ve kept the spine of Pepe, Carra, Gerrard and Torres in virtually every game.
I know that the return of Agger and Alonso and even Pennant will play into Rafa’s thinking, but again, if we only rotate like-for-like, quality for quality, then I think we’ll be just fine ‘“ rotation or not.
So, rather than being despondent about the result at Eastlans, I for one am rather chuffed with my club right now. Yeah, of course I’d like us to be a few points closer to the top, and yeah, I wish we had another 20 million pound striker on our books, (Berbatov anyone?) but given where we were pre-Rafa, I’ll take it!
We can get the ball rolling on out title assault on Wednesday by steam-rollering a Wigan side without an away win this season. With Wigan, Villa and Sunderland as our next 3 home games, sandwiched with Boro and West Ham away, we have a great opportunity to get a lot of points on the board. Quite simply, we have to aim for 15 out of 15. If we can, who know just how far this Liverpool squad ‘“ with one or two additions in January according to Rafa (ahem, Berbatov anyone?) ‘“ can go this season.
So here’s to a fantastic New Year to ALL Liverpool fans. It’s going to be a cracker and one where we should be confident of challenging for all 3 relevant pieces of silverware left open to us.
Go for it Reds! You will never, ever walk alone.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.